With the population aging and health services expanding, hospitals continually fret about the challenge of recruiting physicians from outside the region. But despite concerns about the high cost of practicing medicine in Massachusetts — a state known for low reimbursement rates and soaring liability costs — the Western Mass. region boasts plenty of positives, too. This month, The Healthcare News talks to three recent recruits to area hospitals — a neurosurgeon, a hospitalist, and an ICU intensivist — and learns how they were persuaded to come here not only by ample professional opportunities, but also quality of life.
Working on Brains, Exercising Her Own
When Dr. Sherry Lee Taylor went looking for a new challenge, she had New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago in mind.
“Initially, when I got the call asking if I was interested in Springfield, I said, ‘you must be crazy.’ I didn’t even want to look at it,” said Taylor, who later changed her tune and accepted a position four months ago as chief of Neurosurgery at Baystate Medical Center, leaving her faculty post at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. “As I started hearing more and more about the job and the hospital itself, I got more interested.”
A chat with Richard Wait, Baystate’s chair of Surgery, piqued Taylor’s interest even further — not in small part because the opportunity was a rare one; there are only 187 women board-certified in Neurosurgery in the U.S., and only one of those (in Ann Arbor, Mich.) chairs a department. But the sheer volume of opportunity in Springfield was just as intriguing.
“There are opportunities here I couldn’t have gotten in New York, Chicago, or LA, because those markets are so saturated with doctors, and there are already 10 people doing the same thing,” she told The Healthcare News.
Here, I had the opportunity to build something great that I might not have the opportunity to do somewhere else. The need for neurosurgeons is so great here, I saw it as someone handing me an uncut diamond and asking me to build a program and capture a larger market.”
In effect, Taylor said, she wanted a place where she could push her skills. She found that — and much more, in the opportunities offered by the Western Mass. lifestyle.
“I can’t imagine why someone would not want to move here,” she told The Healthcare News. “It’s an incredibly vibrant area, with a great number of artists, musicians, and writers. I’ve already met very creative, intellectual people.
In fact, I feel like I’ve met more people in the past three months whose company I really enjoy than in the three years I spent in Detroit or even the more than 30 years I spent in California.”
Taylor, who studied medicine at the University of California School of Medicine in Davis, originally earned a doctorate in Endocrinology and forged a rich research career at several facilities in California. But something was missing.
“I’ve had a longstanding interest in the relationship between the brain and the endocrine system, and even though I love research, it was much too clinically oriented. And if I can’t see a direct result in helping people, it doesn’t work for me. I’m too social.”
So she went into medicine instead, choosing neurosurgery because of its vast potential to make an impact on patients’ lives.
“You see the impact immediately,” Taylor said. “We had a baby in the pediatric ICU who was in a car accident, and we all thought she was going to die. “I’ve been doing this 15 years, but when we saw the baby open her eyes and look at the parents and nod and respond to them — well, it’s really hard not to cry. To make that kind of difference in people’s lives, it’s not the same as pushing paper on a desk. It gives your life value.”
And Taylor is valuing her time in the Pioneer Valley, enjoying not only the region’s cultural offerings but its outdoor possibilities as well, from the bike trails to hiking and skiing.
“I’ve been introduced to snowshoeing,” she said, “and I can’t wait for the first snow this year.”
Until then, she’ll have to be content with making a difference and saving lives.
A Region That Lives Outside the Box
Dr. Dirk Stanley isn’t one to accept the status quo — either on the job or in the world around him.
That’s why Cooley Dickinson Hospital is such a good fit for the native of Yonkers, N.Y., who recently came on board as a hospitalist, a physician who treats and coordinates care for hospitalized patients.
“I kind of fell into it in my residency at Albany Medical Center,” said Stanley, who studied medicine at St. George University on the island of Granada. “I liked doing a bit of everything — cardiology, pulmonology, renal disease — but I had a hard time choosing a specialty. I understood a little bit about a lot of different subjects, and I became very good at seeing the big medical picture for patients.”
That made the hospitalist’s role attractive.
“To coordinate care for very complicated patients, we’ll have four or five specialists involved in their care,” he said. “Sometimes it’s difficult for patients to navigate all the different opinions, and I found it’s an asset for me to understand all the different specialties and be able to put them together in a concerted effort to take care of patients.”
Making things better, however, isn’t a value that ends at the bedside for Stanley. It’s one reason he chose CDH and Northampton, cold-calling the hospital about a job after doing some research online — and remembering his undergraduate years at UMass Amherst.
“I worked in Providence last year, and my wife and I wanted to find a nice place that was affordable, where people are happy, with good schools and not too much traffic or pollution,” he said. “But also, people are very progressive here; it’s one of the few places in the country where people are really focused on thinking outside the box regarding what they can do to make things better. It seems like everyone is thinking, ‘what can we do to make the world a better place to live?’”
The politics of Hampshire County undoubtedly lean to the left, but when Stanley uses the word ‘progressive,’ it’s not a political term, but a more general value — one of never being satisfied, of always seeking ways to improve lives.
“People often disagree on what’s the best way to fix things, but there’s a shared focus here,” he said. “You probably see more biofueled cars here, and more recycling, and a lot of political activism. If you have a platform, if there’s something you want to say, people here will listen to it and, I think, constructively criticize your ideas, but also be supportive of ideas that seem reasonable.
“I’ve been to a lot of other places where people don’t have that kind of passion,” he continued, “but this is a place with an excess of passion and activism and ideas. For a physician, it’s refreshing to hear people discuss how we can change the health care system, how we can make hospitals better, how we can make patients happier. It’s not business as usual, but they’re focused on how they can make things better.”
Stanley said he enjoys talking about his role at Cooley Dickinson, if only to shed some light on a continuing shortage of hospitalists and general-medicine practitioners nationwide.
“That shortage is going to have an major impact on health care, especially as the country gets older,” he told The Healthcare News. “It’s a big problem, so I’ll do anything I can to spread the word about what hospitalists are and make this area more attractive to general physicians.”
Especially those who think outside the box.
The Cutting Edge of Intensive Care
Dr. Art Weinstock recognized a hospital with its priorities straight. But Holyoke?
The ICU intensivist, who arrived at Holyoke Medical Center about a year ago, said the role he plays will eventually be mandated at every hospital in the Commonwealth, but not many facilities have one on staff around the clock.
“I was looking for a place that was more on the cutting edge of bringing in intensivists to staff the ICU full time,” Weinstock said. “Holyoke Medical Center was the first community hospital interested in going that route in their intensive care unit.”
But he admitted that working in Holyoke, one of the Bay State’s poorest cities, wasn’t exactly a draw — until he started thinking about it.
“To be honest, when I first applied, I wondered, why do I want to work in Holyoke? But when you get past the initial reaction, you realize how much this region has to offer. You see Northampton, and Six Flags, and the Connecticut River and the mountains, and you realize there’s so much to do here.”
For Weinstock, who studied medicine at UMass Medical School in Worcester, there was also plenty to see that he had been missing working at Cape Cod Hospital.
“The landscape here is so beautiful,” he said. “I’m not knocking the Cape, which is very pretty, but it’s all flat with tiny trees. Here, there are mountains and huge trees, and the Amherst area with its big fields and cows, and I haven’t seen those things in a long time. It’s just a different geography. It’s beautiful in a different way.”
Board-certified and state-licensed in Critical Care Medicine, Weinstock said the hands-on nature of the field appeals to him.
“I have skills and responsibilities specific to adults in an intensive care unit, whether they’re medically ill or have surgical complications, or they’re older people who need surgery,” he said. “Part of my role is caring for very sick adults, and I love the medicine part of it, the thinking and solving problems. That’s very cool. And in critical care, you have the opportunity to use your hands by doing procedures, and you have the opportunity to act in a very precise manner to save someone’s life.”
According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, an ICU staffed with certified intensivists, as opposed to one populated by physicians from virtually any field, has statistically improved ICU mortality and decreased length of stay.
“The ICU care team and executive leadership should work toward developing systems that assure continuous improvement,” the organization claims. “In this regard, the type of physician caring for critically ill patients matters.”
In that sense, the work Weinstock is doing certainly matters for the critically ill or injured patients of Holyoke. “With some of these interventions, you have to sit down and think about what happened to this patient. You use your brain,” he said.
“I like that Holyoke Medical Center has committed to providing this standard of care to the patients in its ICU. They would not settle, and are continuing to staff it 24/7 with board-certified intensivists,” he added.
“The management here has been very supportive of new ideas — ideas that may cost them money, but to achieve a certain standard of care. I think that’s so cool.”